As a result of an increased workload away from Just Pro Cycling (in the real world), I decided against daily previews for La Grand Boucle. I also decided to move away from a traditional chunk-by-chunk preview extravaganza in favour of this post; twenty one wild predictions for each Tour de France stage…made far, far too early.
Stage 1 – Brussels. 195km. Not quite a normal sprint.
The Tour opener is a fully-fledged road stage with a sprinkling of Bosberg-bursting Belgium. The two cobbled, categorized, climbs come far too early to define the stage but will make for a popular spectacle. Things will almost certainly come back together but the final kilometre averages 4% in an interesting and very Belgian twist. The likes of Greg van Avermaet and Michael Matthews will be interested in Yellow but I can’t see past the premium sprinters who will be fresh and primed for the big occasion! Nevertheless, I’m plumping for a surprise winner.
Prediction: Alexander Kristoff
Stage 2 – Brussels. 27km. Team Time Trial.
Dust off your ONCE jersey, it’s the return of the TTT. The route is wide, largely flat, and certainly not hilly enough to stir the pot and disrupt the usual suspects. The current (provisional) line-ups are short on rouleurs and we’re unlikely to see much of the TTT squads from last year’s Worlds. Nevertheless, I’m predicting Sunweb vs. the depleted Ineos, with sleepers Jumbo sneaking third.
Prediction: Team Sunweb
Stage 3 – Binche to Epenay. 215km. All eyes on Alaphilippe.
With three short, sharp, categorised climbs in the closing 30 km – and an uphill finish – stage three won’t be for the pure fastmen. Julian Alaphilippe will start as stage favourite but is it hard enough for last year’s KotM winner? Possibly not. The likes of Matthews and Wout van Aert will fancy their chances against King Julian in a sprint, and both should survive.
Prediction: Wout van Aert
Stage 4 – Reims to Nancy. 214km. Big sprint number one.
Not even the Cat 4 climb inside the final 20km will rob this one from the sprinters, who will be eager to kick-start their green jersey campaigns. I’m unsure if Elia Viviani will start the race and fear Dylan Groenewegen will need to warm-up his rocket legs. I’m giving this one to a very familiar face.
Prediction: Peter Sagan
Stage 5 – Saint-Die-Des-Vosges to Colmar. 169km. The hills of Vosges.
They’ll be no sprint on Wednesday 10th July, and possibly a new race leader. They’ll be a serious breakaway and tussle for the handful of KoM points. We’ll still be in week one, so I can’t see any serious activity from the favourites. There’s a 6% climb that crests 15 km from the finish which makes this stage even harder to predict. I’ll go for the breakaway. And I’m allowing myself two.
Prediction: Elie Gesbert, Benoit Cosnefroy
Stage 6 – Mulhouse to La Planche des Belles Filles. 161km. Surprisingly nasty.
Opening week mountain stages don’t usually look like this. Big climbs are used sparingly in the opening weeks and usually arrive after a (relatively) gentle day. This was certainly the case when La Planche des Belles Filles (the organizers’ new favourite climb) was included in 2014 and 2017. This year the entire stage is much tougher. In total there are six climbs on this stage and I don’t think the GC boys will be able to resist.
Prediction: Adam Yates
Stage 7 – Belfort to Chalon-sur-Saone. 230 km. Big sprint number two.
Another for the fastmen before we head back to lumpy terrain. A pure sprint for a pure sprinter.
Prediction: Dylan Groenewegen
Stage 8 – Maccon to St.Etienne. 200km. A weekend in the Massif Central.
This could be a great stage. It’s not overly mountainous but gradients arrive at just the right time to destroy any chance of a bunch sprint. The uphill/downhill finale screams “late attack” and we’ve got the field to make this finish a bit tasty. I’ve got both Dylan Teuns and Luis Leon Sanchez on my mind. But can either shake free of the faster finishers? An in-form Sagan could steal this one.
Prediction: Luis Leon Sanchez
Stage 9 – St.Etienne to Brioude 171km. Bastille Day.
This upcoming Bastille Day pays a visit to Romain Bardet’s hometown but I doubt it’s hard enough to spin things into his hands. Instead, Bardet’s compatriots will be out on the attack but the peloton are unlikely to sit back on a stage with such a lovely late launch pad. I’ll be backing Bardet’s teammates here; Tony Gallopin (if he rides) or the forgotten man – and 2018 best young rider – Pierre Latour.
Prediction: Pierre Latour
Stage 10 – Saint-Flour to Albi 218km. Sprint (probably).
We’re treated to an extra day’s racing instead of the usual ‘second Monday’ rest day slot – heading to Albi for a sprint. The long tenth stage will be for the tough sprinters; assuming the breakaway are reeled in. I’m going for the three-time World Champion.
Prediction: Peter Sagan
Stage 11 – Albi to Toulouse. 167km. Desperate sprinters.
The Pyrenees are looming and the green jersey favourites will be banking on turning the Toulouse city centre into their playground. There’ll be a temptation for the peloton to dawdle ahead of the mountains but the force of sprint teams should prevent a successful breakaway. Another sprint. Groenewegen.
Prediction: Dylan Groenewegen
Stage 12 – Toulouse to Bagneres-de-Bigorre. 202km. The ‘easy’ Pyrenees day.
Two non-threatening category one climbs should only put the most fragile of GC contenders in trouble (so long as Thibault Pinot doesn’t get heat stroke and Richie Porte avoids six mechanicals). This is a great, big, juicy, opportunity for the breakaway stars. I’m allowing myself two.
Prediction: Alessandro De Marchi, Matej Mohoric
Stage 13 – Pau to Pau. 27km. ITT
This year’s sole individual time trial is sandwiched between mountain stages, in the classic Tour de France town of Pau. It’s flat enough for the purists to deal damage but the many climbers will be able to bounce-back the following day.
Prediction: Rohan Dennis
Stage 14 – Tarbes to the Tourmalet. 117km. Mayhem.
This could be special. Short mountain stages can go one of two ways. Riders will either explode off the rollers or be wholly uninterested in such an easy jaunt. However, this short mountain stage features the mammoth Col du Tourmalet ensuring riders will pay for a lack of serious preparation. The Tourmalet is brilliant and it ascends for nearly 20 km long with no easy sections. Riders who go off too hard could seriously ground to a halt. GC day.
Prediction: Jakob Fuglsang
Stage 15 – Limoux to Foix. 185 km. The ‘hard’ Pyrenees day.
This pre-rest day mountain top finish is comfortably hard enough to be called “a big one” but not so leg-numbingly, sprinter-crippling, that everybody will be too scared to do anything. In other words, the Tour has nailed this Pyrenean conclusion. The strongest of the adventurers will be lured into the break and I think it will stay away whilst the GC boys play behind.
Prediction: Rui Costa, Maximilian Schachmann
Stage 16 – Nimes to Nimes. 177km. Should be a sprint but won’t be.
The day after the second rest day is an easy one. Legs will be stiff, stomachs will be full and motivation could be low. Breakaway. Pro Conti victory.
Prediction: Anthony Turgis, Hugo Hofstetter
Stage 17 – Pont du Gard to Gap. 200km. Sprint without the sprinters.
This is your classical transitional stage to Gap. This kind of 200 km profile is every bit as familiar to the Tour de France as huge mountain stages and wide bunch sprints. It’s a very difficult one to predict. Head says breakaway, other part of my head says Julian Alaphilippe. Heart says Bettiol. And somewhere in my stomach I’m getting Alexey Lutsenko.
Prediction: Julian Alaphilippe, Alberto Bettiol
Stage 18 – Embrun to Valloire. 208km. The one you watch live all day.
Heading north, away from Gap and into the Alps, we reach the crucial stages of the Tour. It’s almost pointless predicting a stage winner for this day as so much will depend on form over the opening two weeks (some would say that this whole post has been far too speculative). The Galibier and Izoard are tackled together which is a spectacle so good we can forgive organizers for the downhill finale. It doesn’t strike me as a good finale for Nairo Quintana, and there are too many questions surrounding Vincenzo Nibali’s ambitions.
Prediction: Romain Bardet
Stage 19 – Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to Tignes. 127 km. Short, hard, mountain stage one.
The following day is the first of a couplet of short but interesting mountain stages. The Col d’Iseran is rated HC and is a relatively unknown feature climb averaging over 7.5% for 13 km including one section of false flat. The final climb is deceptively hard too, also averaging over 7%. I think we’ll probably get a strong breakaway.
Prediction: Tiesj Benoot, David Gaudu
Stage 20 – Albertville to Val Thorens. 130 km. Short, hard, mountain stage two.
What a way to end a fantastic Tour de France. My excitement has doubled over the course of writing this post. 130km of ups and downs including a 16 km climb inside the first hour could destroy the peloton if taken at any haste. This Tour may not boast long stretches of double digit gradients but the Val Thorens climb is over 30 km long and increases in difficulty. I think we’ll get a brave breakaway attempt and possibly a breakaway winner. If not, I expect the likes of Fuglsang and Steven Kruisjwijk to lead this onslaught.
Prediction: Dylan Teuns, Marc Soler
Stage 21 – Rambouilley to Paris. 128 km. The classic Paris stage(?)
I expect Lotto Jumbo to have worked hard for Steven Kruisjwijk and the Dutch outfit may not be fit to lead the peloton on final day. Bora and UAE don’t look particularly strong and FDJ are all-in for Pinot. The result? An escape artist steals the capital.
Prediction: Stefan Kung, Greg van Avermaet
The far too early overall prediction…
This is very much based on the very best climbers doing the very best climbing. Astana will deliver the remarkable with Jakob Fuglsang, making up for a faltering Giro campaign for Miguel Angel Lopez. Steven Kruisjwijk second. Thibaut Pinot third.